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[Editorial] How “Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark” Shaped My Love For Horror!

I am sure all of us true horror fans would agree that we were not all brought up on Princesses and Fairy Tales. Those of that ventured into the darker realm of the library have at one time uncovered the works of Alvin Schwartz and the ever so amazing Stephen Gammell.

I am not exactly sure how the “Scary Stories Trilogy” made it to our school shelves, but the minute I saw the red nosed skull smoking a pipe, I knew that the treasury cove of stories would cater to my delight of horror stories. But the haunting illustrations would forever be embedded in my mind.

The stories themselves aren’t considered to be of such horror as a majority of them are just spins on popular folklore; some of them being a tad bit silly. However, the illustrations that accompany each story are just as morbid as the next one and you could only imagine what sick, amazing imagination Mr. Gammell derived these from. All my nightmares came in black and white form, and to this day these illustrations don’t show a shred of color but have managed to bring life in these stories.

“Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark” eventually was made into a trilogy: “Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark,” “More Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark,” and “Scary Stories: More Tales to Chill Your Bones.”

CBS has actually taken this project on board and will be producing a movie for the big screen. Couple the major production network with the masterminds behind Saw and you could only imagine how these stories will be given life!

All the stories in the collection are great, however, there are a few of them that I just can’t get out of my head even after all these years. Here are my personal favorites, complete with their gaudy illustrations.

“The Big Toe” is a story about a young boy who just so happened to be digging in a garden and out of the blue finds a toe sticking out of the ground. Somehow this creepy lad gives a good hard jerk and the toe comes out in his hand. As any little lad would, he takes the decadent toe to his Mother who decides it would be a wonderful addition to that day’s supper. The meaty toe is divided into three little pieces, and each family member devours their respective share.

The Toe Soup apparently puts the little lad in a slumber but he is awakened to the man [or woman] moaning and groaning for their toe. The ending of the story concludes that a 9-toed man [or woman] has now come to regain the toe that is now floating in this family’s belly.

Who in the world eats Toe Soup? I mean I heard of Toe Jam and Toe Jelly- but seriously?

Quite possibly the most memorable of the many illustrations has to be this sexy thang in her little slip dress. In “The Haunted House” a reputable house contained a “haunt” for the past ten years, and no man or woman could stay there all night without getting scared by this haunt. So a preacher decided to stay and took his almighty Bible and encountered a young woman who had clearly not seen a good day in years- see photo above. [I have to admit that kinda looks like me after a night of raging- slip dress and all.]

Apparently her lover had killed her for money and she asked the preacher if he could properly put her to rest by burying her bones, but take the end joint of the little finger from her left hand and put it in the collection plate at Church. And then when her murderer sees it, it will drive him crazy and he will confess to the murder. Once this happens, she would reward him with a large sum of money. Evidently her murderer was also a savy church go-er and possibly broke as he got caught in church and did not get that sack of money that the preacher was led to under the hearthrock.

What kind of killer is this? I mean, the man went to church for ten years after he murdered his ex. And how rich was she just to be having sacks upon sacks? And what in the world is a hearthrock?

Ah, the coveted “Babysitter” story. Doreen is babysitting 3 children when she starts getting mysterious phone calls throughout the night. Some lunatic keeps on calling the house and keeps on saying “One more hour” or “Pretty soon now”. Two hours later, and apparently braver than he is over the phone than in person, it turns out the prankster is calling from upstairs. Just in the nick of time, they all escape and the prankster waits patiently until the police arrive to arrest him.

So does this mean they have two lines? When I was growing up this was unheard of. And how did the operator know he was UPSTAIRS and not DOWNSTAIRS? And what kind of parents let a babysitter looking like that babysit their children?!

Ida wakes up one morning to find that she is late to Church- or so she thinks. Without looking at the clock, she quickly gets dressed and arrives at church. As she looks around, she sees some unfamiliar faces. Well, except for one, her old friend Josephine. But wait a minute, Josephine died a month ago! Suddenly, a scene from Walking Dead erupts and poor Ida flees for her life.

As Ida runs, one of the Walker screams at her and rips her coat off. But lucky for Ida, right as she reaches her street, the sun rises and all is well.

Well, except for her shredded jacket that was found in the cemetery.

My question is, the dead go to Church, what’s your excuse?

Quite possibly my favorite story and only because it can surely happen. The poor victim is the Ministers daughter and of course right after any wedding, children games should surely ensue. The game of choice is Hide-and-seek, and the Bride decides to hide in her grandfather’s trunk and thinks, “They will never find me here.”

Famous last words.

As she climbs in, the lid slams down on her and she falls unconscious. The lid then locks her into an untimely grave.

No one knew the poor brides’ struggle to get out of that trunk. After only a week, the village deems her as “lost.”

Years later, a maid goes up to the attic and discovers the chest and what was inside. A skeleton wearing a wedding dress.

After looking through an entire village, it never occurred to them to look in the attic? Hence, a room in the house? And the fact that her husband only looked for her for only a week? Well he sure wasn’t a keeper anyways.

Another story that could quite possibly come true and I am sure it has crossed the minds and kitchen tables of many sociopaths. Samuel Blunt was a fat and jolly butcher, until one day Eloise, his delicious wife, ticked him off. He kills her and decides to turn her remains into some wonderful sausage by mixing her with pork meat, some garlic, salt, pepper and of course some thyme.

“Blunt’s Special Sausage” became an instant hit and the demand for this wonderful meat was abundant. But that Samuel- he had to keep his eye out for some new meat; the hogs weren’t as good by themselves. A nice plump schoolteacher, the Dentist, and the children as well as the neighborhood kitties and puppies began to disappear.

But no one suspected the fat and jolly butcher.

One day, years later, Samuel makes a big mistake and tries to capture a fat boy. Fat boy escapes the grinder and the discovery is made that this butcher- who had been supplying them with wonderful sausage- was the one responsible for the missing animals and people.

No one knew if he was fed to the hogs or grinded all up, but everybody knew that they missed that special sausage.

How did he skin those poor puppies and kittens?

Not only were these books filled with grimy poems and odd stories, but Alvin also associated a scary story with a game.

Basically, you have a group of players and in a dark room you tell a story of Brown who was murdered in his own home. The reader has in his possession Brown’s remains.

Brown’s Brains- A wet, squishy tomato
Eyes- Still frozen in fear- Two Peeled Grapes
Nose- A chicken bone
Ear- A dried apricot
Rotting hand- A cloth or rubber glove filled with mud or ice
Heart- A piece of Liver?
His blood- A bowl of ketchup with warm water

And of course the worms- A handful of wet, cooked spaghetti noodles.

Of course, having a creepy Granny walking around with a head that has been severed in half helps too. There is a story there. A Granny who dishes out heads of soup to her guests. It’s catchy, eh?

Lucy Morgan was an artist who traveled from city to city. One night she has a dream. In the dream she goes up a dark, carved staircase and enters a bedroom. This room doesn’t look right though; the carpet looks like it is made of two large squares that look like trapdoors. And each of the windows are fastened shut. In her dream, Lucy goes to sleep in that bedroom and during the night a woman- see above photo- comes into the room. She tells her she needs to leave.

The next day, the landlord suggests Lucy movie to a different city and upon arrival she meets a large, plump lady. They walk up an EXACT same staircase that Lucy dreamed of, but no biggie all old houses look the same.

They walk in the EXACT same room as her dream, but Lucy feels it just a coincidence. She sits on the bed and waits patiently for her tea. She hears a knock at the door and lo and behold it’s the lady from her dream.

I don’t know about you, but that lady scares the shit out of me. I could only imagine what jacked up things could happen under those trap doors….

I saved the best for last. Farmers Thomas and Alfred decide to make a doll size man to scare off the birds. They make it funny looking and name it after a farmer they hate, Harold. These two begin a very strange relationship with Harold and often punch him and when they felt liked it, talked to him playfully.

One night, Harold grunts. Both Thomas and Alfred hear it, and although they are scared, they keep the man-sized doll around. Here and there, Harold would grunt but both men had convinced themselves that it must be some insects that are causing the grunting, because we all know that insects grunt.

They continue to abuse poor Harold and one day they notice that the doll had grown. The next morning, Harold gets up and trots like a horse on his hind legs. All day and all night. How does one simply trot?

The boys take off, when they realize that they had forgotten the milking stools. Knowing they needed it, Thomas becomes the unfortunate soul to go back and get it.

Alfred looks back to see how Thomas is doing back there, but sees Harold instead. Drying out a bloody piece of human flesh. I am going to presume that this is Thomas as no one exists outside of this little land of theirs.

Treat your dolls with respect people. You know, dolls really do freak me out. I have an interesting story about a true story that happened in my family, and ever since I heard it, I REFUSE to have any dolls in my home.

Although short, these stories leave MUCH to the imagination. As a child, I did imagine how these stories could have had alternative endings and even wrote up my own version of what else could possibly happen. I hope the movie itself does the books justice; it will be amazing to see what the writers will conjure up.

I would like to end this article commending the people that love these stories so much that they couldn’t endure to part with the illustrations.




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